Preview: Moto Guzzi T-series

Beginning in 1974 and with a (nearly) continuous production of two-decades, Moto Guzzi’s Tonti-frame tourers introduced a new generation of riders to the brand. As Europe’s oldest moto maker, the arrival of Alejandro De Tomaso late 1972 cleared some dust and ushered in an era of sport and flash. Some being better than others, the fuel powering De Tomaso’s push to the limelight were Lino Tonti’s standards – a series of base models tuned for a wider spectrum. Ingeniously mixing the 850 GT (Eldorado) and Tonti’s Sport 750 begat the 850 T; and from that was established an incredible series of sometimes beautiful, sometimes edgy road machines. Slated for the August and September 2021 issues of RealClassic magazine, my two-part series will be included in RC’s two-issue celebration of Guzzi’s 100th anniversary.

(V1000 automatic (in silver) offered standard screen, luggage, steering dampener and 2-piece Brembo discs. None more handsome. Mid-1975 brought the triple disc 850 T3 – perhaps the most loved Moto Guzzi of all. Certainly among the most popular. V1000 G5 was a clever mix of both machines. A favorite.)  

Hatched a couple years back, I ran the idea of a T-series feature by my circle of colleagues – Bill Ross in California, Joe Caruso in the United Kingdom and son Alex, each agreeing it was long overdue. I’ve penned a few Guzzi articles, but had never went deeper into a series I knew was complex. Even knowing that, I had no idea how much, but years of effort and expense by everyone mentioned here (and more) resulted in a workable T-bike database. Given my considerable demands these friends and relatives might not be so gracious next time, but each contributed in critical ways. Special thanks to Billoni Ross, who researched and prepared a number of technical reviews for my study, and for the test motorcycles to ride. Keen on the facts and proud to represent a world-wide motorcycle family, Moto Guzzi T-series is the work of Guzzi brothers.

(An athletic motorcycle, the 850 T is your basic tough guy. Spotted in the New Mexico badlands, this one features common modifications. NW photo)

Being far less common than they would become later, new bike releases were a big deal in 1973. Reeling in solid press reports and almost instantly embraced in Europe, the works in Italy knew they had a hit. It has been reported US sales lagged some due to the much loved 750 and 850cc loop frame models. Not covered in part one, I’ve been told Guzzi very seriously acknowledged that lost US momentum by investing heavily in the California tourer – which remains in production today. One complaint repeated in those otherwise positive 850 T tests however; just average braking power from the 850’s single disc/rear drum combo. Introducing its patented Integral Braking system in 1975, I bumped Guzzi’s triple disc flagship V1000 Convert ahead of the more popular 850 T3 in Guzzi’s production timeline, as prototypes (in 850 Eldorado frames) were being tested by the LAPD at least two years before. Also not mentioned in part one is continuing research into the widespread use of thin wall chrome moly tubing on all models for much of 1974’s Tonti-frame production. Nothing has been confirmed, and the work continues. Stay tuned.

Regardless, history shows the 850 T was short-lived, and by mid-year 1975 Guzzi’s new tourers featured linked triple disc brakes, oil filters, screens, luggage – even a special 850 T3 California with floorboards and a two-tone seat. Bored to 88mm and fit with a Sachs two-speed torque converter Guzzi’s V1000 ushered Mandello into the literbike club, but it was the peppy, do-it-all 850 T3 that shined brightest. Selling very well and a superstar for Guzzi’s municipal production, the T3’s fatal flaw is its hard chrome cylinder bores. Most have or will eventually fail, but it’s surprising that so many haven’t. Some work went into researching the specific aftermarket solutions, and new Nigusil cylinders remain both popular and widely available. Surely among the best reasons to own a Guzzi are the decades-deep parts overlap, and one can keep the old twin going quite well using only eBay. Values are steadily rising, and did we forget to say DIY types are happiest? Guzzi twins -especially the old ones- reward attention. Working to separate facts from emotion, it should be said the 949cc tourer offered a substantial increase in longevity, if for nothing more than its cast iron bores. More inner factory melding of the 850 T3 and automatic wrought the V1000 G5, this model gaining one devout fan as you can see here.

With ample materials and a wide ownership base, the machines featured in part one were easier to compile. Moving into part two difficulty loomed, one issue being a decided lack of in-house or factory photos. Feel free to minimize this browser and take a surf for 850 T4 info. I’ll wait. Hours were spent online sniffing out scraps on a bike made less than three years and not sent stateside. What couldn’t be found was sent from the Netherlands by old friend Ivar de Gier, along with Finland-based 850 T4 owner Markku Rautomäki. Social media connected us with enthusiasts and key contacts from all over – giving a true international perspective on the passion that exists for this brand. Long the red-headed stepchild, 1983’s 850 T5 isn’t that far from what Suzuki did with the Katana, and it was the technical advances of that machine that pushed Guzzi’s performance program…but the press didn’t like it. Proof of the T5’s greatness? Police and military production into the late 1990s.

(1980’s 850 T4 was only offered in maroon and gold but new goodies lived inside. Note extra polishing. These seldom come up, but I have seen 850 T5 PD versions offered back to the public. These received all regular Guzzi updates, and this late example wears 18″ wheels plus a version of the SP III fairing)

Moto Guzzi slashed the angular 850 T5 from normal production after 1985, closing the book on Tonti’s standard. Sales and demand had steadily weakened after the best selling T3, as Mandello had also adapted into ‘specialization’ with its popular Spada and California tourers. Fascinatingly, importer demand resulted in a new standard with an old moniker in 1987 – the 1000, or Mille GT. Mostly carrying over from the T5 but built more like the G5, Guzzi’s new Mille was branded as a ‘retro’ model and sold well initially. Per practice, the Mille was revised not once but twice, eventually serving as the base for one of Mandello’s most collectible models: the 1000S. Some late versions fit 40mm forks and Guzzi’s ‘New World’ engine. Signing off sometime between 1991-93, the Mille GT’s role as a standard tourer was filled by the Strada 1000 – basically an SPIII stripped of its coverage and accessories.

(I’m smitten with the Mille’s handsome profile and minimalist approach. This could be built into a superior solo traveler, but prices are climbing and supplies are shrinking. Fablous 1000S is technically a Mille GT Sport, but all drew on the high performance Le Mans 1000 to an extent. (Hans Boon)

With motorcycles being so specialized by the 1990s, buyers wholly rejected standard models and it’s easy to see why. With touring and sports bikes so vastly opposed in size and spec, there simply weren’t many riders who fell in between. To be sure I wasn’t one of them, or much of one, and like many my focus was on the superbike class. Into this vanishing market went the 1992 Strada 1000, jazzed up with some leftover Mille GT gear but packing a wallop in its right twist grip. See, it isn’t just the Strada’s 949cc Le Mans engine and chassis that make it special, but a culmination of the decades-long experience Guzzi has in the touring bike biz. So cozy is Bill’s lightly customized, dark blue ‘Strada Sport‘ that the thought of running off with it crosses my mind often…or every time I ride it. Not surprisingly, having some personal experience on Moto Guzzi’s llast Tonti standard felt like the right way to polish it off, but there’s lots more to say.  Both the California and SP series should be the subject of more detailed coverage, and the very early Carcano/Todero twins too. Each of these and more have an important place in Moto Guzzi history.

(Strada 1000 gets Guzzi’s 949cc ‘New World’ 71-hp engine, 40mm fork and full floating rotors. Finished in special blue by owner Bill Ross, it’s the fastest, best handling and most competent Tonti tourer ever. Limited production Mille GT ‘catalyst’ was almost as good. Most went to Germany)

Deeply enjoyable and highly educational, all of the effort would be wasted if it couldn’t be seen on real paper. Thanks to Frank, Rowena, and all the pros at RC you can see what promises to be a spectacular layout. Because Moto Guzzi holds an honored place in the vintage bike community, a real and defined point was made of the brand’s strong performance and durability for riders in 2021. And beyond. As a group, motorcyclists are generally an opinionated lot, but as time exposes the truth more are beginning to recognize and respect these ageless twins from the House of Mandello. We can’t say with any certainty if any of Tonti’s 1974-to-1994 standards will be five-star collectibles, but we sure know some are highly sought after. Built as a rider’s machine from its earliest days this production might represent Guzzi in its truest form – offering over the road performance and mechanical security with remarkable efficiency. Worth the work, worth the study and certainly worth remembering, if nothing else. Nolan Woodbury                  

%d bloggers like this: